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Kawasaki H1

Kawasaki H1
Forty years ago, sport bikes didn’t have ABS or traction control or electronically controlled suspension. They had too much power, and that power was often delivered with a thumping two-stroke jolt. Kawasaki’s iconic H1 Mach III 500 is the classic example, and even by the standards of today’s motorcycles, it’s a fearsome beast: riders who survived the inevitable highside would joke about the ‘double-hinged’ frame. The drum brakes were no match for the highly-tuned air-cooled triple, which could power the H1 down the quarter mile in just 12.4 seconds and on to 200 kph. The images shown here were taken to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the H1, and in this case, pictures do indeed speak a thousand words. So I’ll leave it at that. [Thanks to Scott Hopkin, Tom Stewart, Dimitri Michels and Raymond Moore of Optikal Blitz for helping in the search for definitive H1 images. See the full gallery on Motosblog.fr. Via HFL.]

Kawasaki H1
Kawasaki H1
Kawasaki H1

  • I have always had a soft spot for Kwackers ever since I had a nice purple KH250 when I was 18 – which I wish I had kept; or better still one of these beasts.

  • KWH

    Loved the sound of these…Just a shame in the wet they would only run on 2 cylinders if you were lucky.. Had a KH 400 which was fun in the dry and loved the sound every time I used it in anger…. But couldn’t rely on it when the weather got worse…. Almost got stranded a few times in the cold and the rain….But when the sun came out… It was stunning!

  • Alan

    I had a untitled, unregistered purple one as a teenage, was rough but ran well. Scared the living hell out of myself on that thing several times.

    Went away on spring break one year and my mom had given it away as “junk” 🙁

  • 4Cammer

    True definition of musclebike.

  • the other larry

    Always was a super clean styled bike to my eyes. No BS, just nice and clean.

  • H1’s and H2’s are very cool bikes…. I remember Dick Grune ran a 750 triple at Daytona several years (late 90’s?) ago an set some sort of lap record…. amazing….

    I love how the speedo on this one goes up to 240 km/h…. scary!

  • Jim

    The bike that defined all go and no stop, with turning but a rumor. But oh did they go.

  • Andy

    My first bike, a used ’72 bought in ’85, and still the most amazing sound I’ve heard in cycledom – three 2-stroke cylinders through three pipes hitting their powerband – an otherworldly hum to a turbine-ish roar, as if you really were about to take off.

  • I love the disassembled photo. It makes one realize what little there is to vintage bikes. Makes them seem less daunting when considering a build project.

  • Evo

    I love the H series. I rode a 750 down to a music festival in a storm – my camping gear was ruined, I was soaked, but the bike didn’t miss a beat the whole way. Great machine!

  • MarcD

    When released in the U.S. in 1969 they sold for $995.00 U.S. dollars and earned the nick-name of the “995 meet God machine”! Having owned one and living through the experience, I remember the bike fondly but I don’t think I would ever want to ride another one.

  • whooooooeeeeeeeeeYAH!

  • JonnyM

    I was young and naive when I bought my Mach III for $500 in ’72. It vibrated and was arduous to handle on twisty roads, but on the straight-aways? Shazaaaam! I can still feel the heart-in-the-throat acceleration when I would take it up to 6,000 rpm in third, then drop a gear and lay it on! In a flash it jumped to 9,000! The other-worldly howl, the sudden rushing forward, the blast of the wind to hurricane speeds, the helmet faceshield mashed against my nose, the blippity telephone poles all made me feel like that scene in the first Star Wars when the Millennium Falcon jumps to light-speed. I’ve never before or since felt the sheer exhilaration of fear and excitement as I did on that bike. Do I hear any “amen”s out there??

  • Bill

    AMEN brother….bought my ’71 model H-1 when I was 17 and still have it. I’m looking for somebody repitable to rebuild it, can anybody out there help me?

  • John Farnor

    I traded my 1962 BMW R60/2 for a brand new 1970 H1. I wanted to go fast before I got too old (I was 24 :). My H1 was an unusual metallic slate black. The riding experience was different than any bike I’ve had before or since. When you first turn the ignition on you could hear a very high pitch electronic whistle which was made by the Solid State Very High Voltage Power Pack. If I recall correctly, you then depressed the rich mixture lever on the left handlebar and kicked once or twice and were greeted by the beautiful, unique sound of the H1. Even idling it sounded great, neither the usual corn popping of a 2 stroke nor the separate bangs of a 4 stroke. Perhaps the lack of a crossover pipe or something else made it sound so different. It was rather cold natured and took a while to be ready to ride. On damp or rainy nights the spark plug wires glowed a lovely purple. The H1 was a very deceptive ride at low speed around town. I had a Honda CL175 which seemed to have more power at low rpms. With more throttle at low revs it was still weak with a tendency to bog. Many times I was embarrassed at stop lights when some guy would jet away unexpectedly on his Bonneville, Sportster or Honda 450, but if I was ready and had the motor to 3500 rpms or above I was unbeatable by anything except maybe a Norton Atlas or Royal Enfield and even then the contest could go either way. I know the H1 was known to have quirky handling but I never pressed it far enough to get in trouble. On one ride I reached an indicated 135 on the speedometer which was probably an actual 125 or so, quite an achievement for a 500 cc with a rider over 200 lbs aboard.
    Overall, a great MC and one that I wish I still owned today.